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Monday, 31 May 2010

Something for nothing ...

Warm and wet weather means seeds germinate and suddenly there seems to be a multitude of weeds springing up daily in the garden. And yet there is also a bonus, because in amongst them will be many self-set seedlings. With a couple of hours to spare, they can be teased out of their randomly chosen home, potted up and before you know it, you will have a collection of cottage garden favourites to give to your friends or even to set out on a table by your gate and sell to passers by. There is something very satisfying about sharing plants with fellow enthusiasts.

This year my gravel path has proved to be the perfect place for self-set hardy geraniums, a sweet variety called Walter's Gift. Potting up this crop of seedlings was an easy and enjoyable task.

Ease each one from the ground with a gentle tug and the help of a plant label or garden fork, and into a waiting pot of compost. Water well and place in a shady spot for a couple of days, until the plantlet has had time to recover. Keep watered and wait. Before long your efforts will be rewarded.
I’ve been lucky with some other plants this year. Jacob’s Ladder has happily set seed, along with Verbena Bonariensis and the delightful everlasting sweet pea. Any takers?

Friday, 28 May 2010

How to paint your fence and not fall out with your neighbours..

Painting a fence in the hot blazing sun is not the worse chore in the world, but it is in the top ten for tedium. I have been putting off painting our new fence for weeks, always blaming the onset of rain as the reason I can't get started. However when that excuse wore thin, I knew I had to get on with it. So suitably dressed in my decorating scruffs (a pair of old tatty jeans and a very unflattering T-shirt) I set about painting the fence.

Living in a small village puts a self imposed restriction on ones choice of paint colour. If I could have indulged my taste for the outré and the unusual I would have gone for purple, a deep sensual purple. But imagine the gossip in the village doesn't bear consideration..walking the dog would have been impossible as I would have been given the evil eye by everyone and be known as "that woman with the purple fence..ruins the looks of the village that fence does". So the fence is being painted non offensive dark 'rich oak' and predictably gets approving nods from all dog walkers passing by. I also get some helpful hints ..." you might get it done quicker if you use a bigger brush.." ...."you'd be better off spraying, rather than using a brush.." ..."you've missed a bit..". All this I can put up with, after all the fence is a step closer to a bit more privacy, I think of witty and cutting responses in my head as I paint, ignoring the growing ache in my painting arm after two hours or so. I am just considering stopping for a tea break when the neighbour from across the street, comes over.

Of all our neighbours which number just five, these are the neighbours: Mary and Malcolm, I like the most. This is because they always say a cheery hello, don't get involved in village gossip and basically mind their own business whilst being open and friendly. So it was with some trepidation that I greeted Mary, added to which I looked like a dog's dinner and sweaty to boot.
"I've been meaning to come over to have a word for a while..." she starts..."like your fence by the way, you're doing a good job" Mary smiles, I smile back and wait for the blow from the blunt instrument of other people's opinion. "You may have notice that we've not been out and about with Marcus lately..." Marcus is their very friendly black Labrador retriever. Strangely enough I spend no time at all wondering what my neighbours are up to, but I do not say this, I just nod and put the appropriate concern expression on my face. "Unfortunately Marcus had to be put down last month..spinal problems." "Oh dear," I say genuinely upset...dogs are often the best neighbours to have, they can't be held responsible for their owners. "Well.." says Mary bravely "we've got a new dog, a puppy. I wasn't really ready, but Malcolm was adamant we replace Marcus right away..he's called Magnus...the new puppy....would you like to see him?" I can see her bottom lip quivering and sense tears are hovering. I put down my paint brush and agree. It is only when I'm in their house, which is the top end of posh, that I become aware of my scruffy clothes, sweating armpits and paint splattered arms. I immediately feel like a teenager, gauche and awkward. My body betrays me by sweating more and I wipe my face on my T-shirt, which I realise immediately after doing it, that it was the wrong thing to do, as Mary's face crinkles slightly with disapproval.
"Would you mind taking your shoes off" Mary asks politely, with horror I look down at my muddy wellies and the mucky foot prints I have left on her pale green hall carpets. I apologise profusely and feel a blush of menopausal hot flush proportions. "Follow me.." Mary instructs. I do as I am told.
I can't help but cast a sneaky eye at my surroundings. I am caught doing that too. "Would you like a tour?" Mary asks with a hint of sarcasm. I decline and place my interest back on the fat wriggly black lab puppy squirming in my arms. He's beautiful I tell her and he is. I make my standard comments one makes for moments like this and gratefully leave. As I resume painting the fence, I can't help thinking that the impression I made on Mary will probably result in her avoiding me forever. Its not fair, I was just minding my own business and painting the bloody fence!!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

de Hortus Botanicus: Amsterdam

On Planage Middenlaan, just off Muiderstratten is a 2 arce plot that plays host to Amsterdam's Botanical Gardens. It is an intriguing place, sort of a mini Kew Gardens, with an Orangery built 1875, the Palm House for palm trees and cactus constructed in 1912, an miniature rainforest in the big Three-Climate Greenhouse dating from 1993, the Hugo de Vries building was built in 1915 to honour Professor de Vries was a famous genetics scholar and a director at de Hortus from 1896 to 1918. There is also a pond and potager. It was a beautiful hot day, so wandering around was a delight and a pleasure.

The Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the world. There are apparently over 4,000 plant species from all over the world. The Hortus started out as a medicinal herb garden in 1638 by the Amsterdam City Council. I can't imagine any other city in any other country doing the same. Although it was in part due to an plague epidemic that the medicinal garden was formed to allow doctors and pharmacists to train in the preparation of prescriptions.

Find out more on

The Dutch Touch

A little time spent away from home and nosing about in another country is always interesting and an opportunity to be inspired. Luckily for me I hitched a ride on my husband's business trip to the Netherlands and had a sunny weekend in Amsterdam. I came back with a few treasures and lots of fantastic experiences finding vintage shops with unusual and quirky stuff. I was very inspired and captured some brilliant ideas for Beardog and Joolz.

I will be writing other blogs in the very near future about my extra long four day weekend in Amsterdam, but for now, here are a few tantalising images:

The simple beauty of every day things:

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Dinner Party Tips: How to avoid the DP Blues

The invitations have gone out, the menu has been planned, the shopping has been done and everything is in place for a dinner party bar the actual cooking. Dinner parties always seem like a good idea at the time. You get to thinking, 'gosh I haven't seen so and so for ages, lets' invite them over for a meal...' or you exchange invites one drunken night after a session in the pub and only remember the promise of a meal when they turn up on your doorstep expecting to be fed a week later. Or your husband hands out invites to dinner to all and sundry like smarties and every weekend you feel as if you're running a five star restaurant but with no tidy profit at the end to make it feel worthwhile. Things that are a good idea at the time are only ever good at the time, the brilliance of it fades with every passing second. The closest I want to get to a dinner party these days is watching 'Come Dine With Me'.

But sometimes there is no avoiding it: you either 'owe' a dinner to someone who fed you 6 months ago and has been hinting ever since that they "haven't seen you for ages not since you came over to ours for a meal" or circumstances mean you can't ditch the kids and take some worthy friends out to share an Indian and are force to cook instead. I use to make a right meal of a dinner party (ha ha) and by the time I dished up I would be completely exhausted and unable to enjoy the food and unwilling to engaged in dinner party chat. These day I am very laid back and these are my handy tips to put the fun and conviviality back into providing food for friends.

1. Are your friends coming to inspect your house or have a meal? Don't give yourself more to do or put pressure on your hubby to re-wire the house. There is really no need to repaper the downstairs loos or sparkle clean inside the under-stair cupboard. As long as your house is reasonably clean and hasn't been condemned by Health and Safety, all is well.

2.Keep it simple. Don't start planning an elaborate menu with a 6 bird roast or a Heston Blumenthal feast, don't even think about cooking something you've never cooked before. This is when you revisit your own perfected repertoire of dishes that you have mastered and made your own. I always make a Lemon Meringue Pie as pud because I can make it with my eyes close and one hand tied behind my back. is boring to keep churning out the same dishes, but if you have perfected more than a dozen recipes you can mix and match for ages before anyone notices.

3. Get someone else to do the cooking: the other guests for example. It is quite charming for guests to be asked to be responsible for preparing one of the courses; clearly not the main course; but the starter or dessert can be palmed off on others. This gives you more time to focus on making the main course fantastic. You do have to share the glory but you are sharing the work, so its all good.

4. Don't reward the cook with a glass or two of wine whilst preparing the food. You'll end up a very sweaty drunken mess with a potentially uneatable meal on the table. Take it easy. Wait until the dishes are prepared and you've got a relaxing half an hour before your guests arrive: pour a drink then, you will have earned it.

5. Reward your kids with treats if they agree to set the table, walk the dog or keep their toys off the stairs. Every one in the household should be drawn into helping. There is always something you've forgotten to buy or do.

Follow these tips and dinner parties may end up being fun. Or like me you can simply get a family size bag of crisps and a bottle or two of pinot and amuse yourself watching other people sweat on Come Dine With Me.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Perennial Pleasures

Perennial Pleasures

Some pleasures come round year after year. We mark the seasons by some and renew our acquaintance with others which we have quite forgotten about and then are pleasantly surprised by, every single year! These perennial pleasures are as individual to us as our birthdays. For me, the year is not punctuated by commercial holidays like Easter and Christmas, but by the changing styles of the seasons and the delight each one gives. The seasons for me are marked by simple things, like the first journey home from work without having to put your car lights on. That is when I note that Spring is definitely on the way. Hearing bird song first thing in the morning is another.

The first smell and sound of a lawn being mown reminds me of the
rhythm of grass cutting, marking out the start of a love affair which by mid- summer has become an arduous chore. However mowing the lawn for the first time after a long bleak winter, gives a certain pleasure that is not easy to explain. Encapsulate in that moment is the very definition of the start of summer, a promise of hot, lazy days and passionate sultry nights to come.

Similarly having an excuse to light the fire and illuminate the room with candles always invokes a singular feeling of comfort and being secure at home. It is the only part of winter that soothes; the rest is a battle against the weather and the commercial hype of Christmas.

I love the stillness of summer’s afternoon, when the sky is aglow with heat, the blueness as perfect a colour of blue that no painter could match; the sounds of bees, of birds chattering and the distant drone of a lawn being shorn somewhere; the clink of ice in a glass and the gentle creak of a deck chair as you settle into the moment; this for me is the very definition of high summer.

These perennial pleasures are perfect markers for my year, each loved and exclaimed over when they are here and mourned and fondly remembered when they have gone.

A Few of my Perennial Pleasures:

First asparagus.

The longest day.

Summer rain (as long as it is infrequent and comes after a really muggy hot day).

Smell of freshly picked tomatoes. The perfume of blushing plums.

Foggy autumn day and the smell of a bonfire.

Finding beautiful and unique things for my home and for Beardog and Joolz.

Fireworks in the night sky.

The feel and smell of sheets after a day on the washing line in the sun.

The smell of the sea and warm sand between ones toes.

A cup of tea and a bun enjoyed after an autumnal walk. .

Email us at and share your perennial pleasures and the most evocative will win a 10% discount voucher to spend with Beardog and Joolz Ltd.